Rock chronicles: Rock Chronicles. 1980s: Tim Marten
While this may have been the absolute apex of gigs for guitar technicians, the Jimmy Page's tech all too well understood the pressures of his position.
Posted on Jun 07, 2008 09:45 am
When: March 18, 1986
Where: Daytona Beach, Florida. Some hotel located in this beach city.
What:Jimmy Page had put together The Firm with ex-Free/Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers. I had been dispatched to Florida to interview the ex-Led Zeppelin wizard. You probably know by now, if you've been reading any of the other entries here in the Rock Chronicles pages, that I interviewed Jimmy back in '77. You know that the time I spent with Zeppelin was as intoxicating as it was enervating, and that sitting down with James Patrick was not something you just threw together.
Well, cornering him about 9 years after that first meet proved to be just as difficult. We were all staying in the same hotel and like it was in the days of yore, I was instructed to stay by the telephone and when Page was ready to talk, I'd be contacted. I'm in a chi chi hotel right on the beach, the sun is shining, the water is inviting, and I'm stuck in my room like, like what? Like a prisoner in a cage with no bars? Like a schmuck, that's like what.
But I was a pro and dutifully obeyed instructions. And after two or three days, the phone rings and I do my work. Immediately following my chat with Jim, I sat and spoke with his guitar tech, Tim Marten. Tim was actually there during my call/response session with Jimmy. Marten acted as a sort of chaperone/referee, cooling Jimmy down if he became too agitated (and he did get himself worked up several times), and just generally keeping momentum moving forward.
Tim was a very cool guy. While this may have been the absolute apex of gigs for guitar technicians, he all too well understood the pressures of his position. In a silent way, never really verbalized but emotionally suggested, Tim understood the rigors of what I had been through in speaking with Jimmy. He commiserated, non-verbally. Behind every comment, you could read into his words the absolute respect he held for Page and how seriously he took his gig.
Tim Marten has worked as a guitar technician for Jimmy Page since 1980. Prior to this employment he spent his days at Andy's Guitar Workshop, a repair service in England, which repaired all the instruments for the artists on the SwanSong label (Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, etc.).
I sat in this small basement for about two-and-a-half years and when they called looking for somebody to go on the road, I immediately said 'Yes.'
Marten first met Page at his home in England where Jimmy recited the guitar sounds on various tracks as a source of reference. In an honest and unassuming fashion Marten replied: I'm not really a fan (referring to Led Zeppelin) and I'm not familiar with those tracks.Jimmy retired to another room and returned with a stack of Zeppelin albums and proceeded to administer a swift education. A rapport was established and that evening Tim was gainfully employed.
Marten, a guitarist in his own right, is responsible for the care, maintenance and performance of Page's instruments, a task he executes with precision and knowledge. Though Jimmy only carries a relatively small assortment of instruments on tour, their value is inestimable-a matter Marten is only too aware of.
Page's main guitar on the recent Firm tour is a piecemeal Fender Telecaster fitted with a Parsons/White Stringbender. Page first showcased this instrument during the ARMS Tour. The main difficulty in using the Telecaster was achieving a thick sound without creating a boxiness. In compensation, extensive experimentation took place relative to amplifier modifications and pickup choices. After running through several types of pickups, they returned to original Fender Telecaster units. They were removed from various Telecasters and fitted into a lightweight Fender body (the best from amongst several Telecasters) supporting a rosewood neck (Marten places it at about a 1956 or 1957 model).
"Jimmy Page with his 1958 Sunburst Les Paul."
Page carries three Les Pauls with him, a 1958 and 1959 Standards. The former is the instrument most people identify with Page. It is the one with the chipped lacquer and is the guitar featured in most publicity shots. According to Marten, it has a sweet neck and is not overly heavy. During a tour of Australia, a pickup failed and was replaced with a mid-seventies Les Paul humbucking assembly. The latter Standard (rumored to have been given to Page by Joe Walsh) has been worked on by an Englishman named Steve Hoyland, who fitted it with push/pull pots allowing a variety of sounds including phase reversal and series parallel.
The last Les Paul, a mid-seventies gold-top resprayed purple, is rarely played. It is the test bed guitar and now sports a Parsons/White unit, and Seymour Duncan pickups (they once tried an ARP Avatar pickup in it, which resulted in a riddle of small screw holes). The Le Paul, an unlikely candidate for a String-Bender, was modified to accept this device because the Gibson could produce a much fatter sound than the Fender. However, after chopping huge hunks of wood from the body, the tone was not the same and the experiment ended up in the failure file. Apparently, Jeff Beck gave this piece to Page (unconfirmed).
"Jimmy Page playing his 1959 Placid Blue Stratocaster."
The other instruments include an absolutely stock 1959 Lake Placid Blue Stratocaster; a circa-1982 Fender Stratocaster re-issue of that same 1959 model (the neck has been shaved; this instrument rarely played); and a Danelectro. The Danelectro was the result of combining two such instruments and removing the best bits from each. The original bridge was replaced with a Badass assembly because it fit readily on the existing bridge pins and featured individual string adjustments.
Page brings the famous Gibson doubleneck on the road because The Firm's set originally included a song requiring it; this number has since been deleted and the guitar sleeps quietly in its case.
The amplifiers are Marshall 100-watt heads and two 4 x 12 bottoms housing standard Celestion speakers. On stage the cabinets are housed in a frame allowing a straight cab on the floor to throw sound across the stage towards the audience and a slant cab on top to direct sound at Page. The result is a wider spread of sound (it is fuller than a normal piggyback stack configuration) and gives Jimmy more freedom to move about the stage. Four Marshall tops are taken on the road (all are between 1969 and 1973 versions) and they are reportedly the former properties of Jimi Hendrix. The main top has been with Page for years (serial # A10053) and onstage it sits next to a spare 100-watt unit in case of need (this particular second was designated #A10924). Page plugs into the top left treble input.
The Marshall recently returned from the factory in England where new transformers were installed and at this moment, Page is quite satisfied with the sound. The amp has been boosted from its original 100 watts to 180.
During rehearsals for the second Firm tour, Page ran through an old Vox AC-30 (a spare was sometimes used in slave fashion), a Hiwatt (It kept blowing up, sighs Marten), and an old 50-watt Marshall. Page actually used the Vox amplifier for the ARMS tour.
As an example, the Marshall top is set as follows for the song, Cadillac (a track from Mean Business, the band's second album and the record being supported by this tour):
Bass - full to accentuate vibrato arm swells on the Stratocaster
Volume - 70&
Presence - full
Bass - from 60%-100%
Treble - around 50%
Mid - 20%-30%
Adopting the simplest is best philosophy as regards effects, Page uses a minimum of colors: Echoplex (it features preset echoes and has been modified to adapt more readily to the Marshall; Marten describes the age as ancient); Cry Baby wahwah; Eventide H949 Harmonizer; Boss SD-I distortion; and a Boss CE-2 Chorus. Onstage, he uses a simple pedal board with the letters (from left to right); H; E; D; C. They designate Harmonizer, Echoplex, Distortion and Chorus (the latter two are fitted in the board while the former two are only activated by it). The Vox Cry Baby wah-wah sits on the extreme right of this board.
Tim uses a Boss TU-12 tuner and Boss Amp HA-S headsets.
Strings are Ernie Ball gauges: .008; .011; .014; .022; .030; and .038. On the Telecaster, the B-string is substituted with a .012 (though Parsons suggests using a .013). Picks are Herco Flex 75's.
The action on the guitars is fast but not as low as they could ultimately be. The frets are not too heavy, high, or wide, and allow for speed without sliding off the string. The vibrato arm is non-floating; the two screws underneath the plate at the rear are inserted so they pull the arm flat on the body. The spring design is unique-two springs on the bass end (outside and neighboring hole) and one on the extreme treble side. The arm consequently raises and lowers linear fashion.
In summation, Marten maintains that Page seeks clarity and balls in his sound and likes power but not mushiness. Cut is how Tim describes it. That condition where the amplifier is pumping naturally and the gain is not being artificially induced by some type of distortion device. There is a delicate balance which exists here because it isdifficult to coax the amplifier to do this without going over the top when a chord or rhythm sequence is strummed.
Jimmy pushes the parameters of the guitar. You can't put a locking nut on a Jimmy Page guitar, for instance, because half the time he's playing on the other side of the nut. There are a lot of fine guitar players but very few of them take a feature like a whammy bar and push that to the extreme.Interview by Steven Rosen